The thirteenth edition of the Triennale Design Museum has begun. Entitled Storie. Design italiano (Stories. Italian design), it will be open to visitors until 20 January 2019. The stars of this new event will be two icons of automotive design, Fiat 500 N (1958) and Fiat Panda 30 (1980). Both vehicles belong to the precious collection of FCA Heritage, the Group’s department responsible for protecting and promoting the historical heritage of the Italian brands of FCA.
Some cars go down in history for their innovations in the fields of technology or design. Others deserve to be remembered for what they meant for the daily lives of a whole generation or a whole country. Few vehicles succeed in combining both these characteristics, advanced technology technique and deep emotion, and so in leaving an indelible mark, becoming a sort of icon of their age. But when this does occur, essential masterpieces of industrial history are born. And these rare triumphs have included Fiat 500 and Fiat Panda, two iconic cars spawned by Italian creativity which soon joined and became a permanent fixture in the collective memory of the international market.
The evergreen Fiat 500 is no stranger to the rooms of a Museum. Indeed, just last year a vehicle from the F series, the most popular 500 of all time, became part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. And today it is the turn of a splendid 500 N from 1958. As it crosses the threshold of the Triennale Design Museum, it confirms the importance of this model, which was responsible for “motorising” Italians, and at the same time became a true work of design, renowned worldwide. The 500 N will be joined by another vehicle that is just as famous: Panda 30, another Italian icon which has provided an unmistakeable way of experiencing our daily relationship with the car since 1980: more immediate, more relaxed and definitely easier to manage.
Fiat 500 N (1958)
Produced in August 1958, and characterised by its light blue livery, the Fiat 500 N on show in Milan belongs to the model’s first series and features the upgrades Fiat presented at the Turin Motor Show in November 1957, which improved the car’s trim level: headlights with aluminium surrounds, sun blinds, aluminium trims on the bonnet and mouldings on the sides, polished aluminium hub caps, wind-down front windows, wing windows with a catches to hold them open, padded rear bench, direction indicator and light stalks on the steering column, and rubber-clad brake and clutch pedals. The car featured in the event has a 15 HP two-cylinder 479 cm3engine, giving it a top speed of 90 km/h.
The story behind the 500 model is nothing short of enthralling: it was fruit of a genial intuition by the legendary Dante Giacosa and the ambitious strategy designed to develop and renew the range implemented by Fiat as early as during the Second World War. Fiat presented the Nuova (“new”) 500 in the summer of 1957 hoping to replicate the success of the “Topolino”. The car inherited a two-seater body type, updated to implement the most modern technology of the day from its forerunner. Unitised body, rear engine and four independent wheels; the engine was an air-cooled two-cylinder, the first of its kind made by Fiat. The launch price was 490,000 lire. Within a few years, the 500 was asserted as the new iconic car of Italian youths and sold rapidly worldwide, from the United States to New Zealand. Over four million units of the car were made non-stop – across five series – until 1975.
A car of undisputed success, followed in 2007 by the birth of the new generation: today’s 500, just like its illustrious ancestor, immediately proved highly successful, since in just 10 years it has already acquired 2 million customers, as well as winning an impressive array of awards, including “Car of the Year” and the “Compasso d’oro”, the oldest and most prestigious world design award established in 1954 and assigned since 1958 by the Association for Industrial Design. The coveted prize has been won by both the generations of Fiat 500, precisely in 1959 and 2011. And last year, to mark the 60th birthday of the legendary 500, the brand staged a string of celebratory activities, notably including the launch of two exclusive special series; the evocative “See you in the future” short, the first ever made by Fiat and starring Oscar® winning actor Adrien Brody; the multi-award-winning European tour “The Fiat 500 Forever Young Experience”; a commemorative stamp and coin.
Panda 30 (1980)
The story behind the second Fiat icon on display at the Triennale Design Museum is just as fascinating: the vehicle in question is a Panda 30 produced in 1980. With its distinctive red livery, the vehicle on show belongs to the first series of this model, of which a total of more than 7.5 million vehicles has been manufactured to date.
It all began back in the mid 1970s, when the need arose to design a new front wheel drive vehicle to accompany the Fiat 126 and Fiat 127. Initially known as “Zero”, the design then took on the name “Design 141” and in 1978 the first prototypes were prepared. The name chosen was “Panda”, continuing along the same lines launched with the Ritmo which, unlike the standard procedure adopted in previous decades, had abandoned the use of the technical name of the design, opting instead for a new more imaginative, exciting one. In March 1980, following a preview at the Quirinal Palace, the new Fiat runaround made its début at the Geneva Motor Show.
Developed with a view to offering maximum functionality and exploiting the space inside the vehicle to its full potential, the first series of Fiat Panda was 3.38 metres long, had a 3-door body featuring a folding, removable rear seat, and could comfortably carry 5 passengers. With these dimensions and the stylistic solutions proposed by designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, the new Fiat vehicle proved highly practical, versatile and multi-purpose. The layout featured a front engine and front wheel drive, the suspension was independent on the front wheels and rigid axle on the rear wheels. Depending on the markets, the customer could choose from a 650 cm3air-cooled two-cylinder engine with 30 HP, or a 903 cm3water-cooled four-cylinder engine with 45 HP. These two variants were the reason behind the names assigned to the different versions: Fiat Panda 30 and Fiat Panda 45. The consumptions were interesting: at 90 km/hour the Panda 30 travelled 19 km with 1 litre and the Panda 45 over 17 km. The maximum speeds respectively reached over 115 km/h and approximately 140 km/h.
From 1980 to the present day, no less than four generations of Fiat’s little big car have been produced, so continuing the vehicle’s long run of commercial success and technological records in the segment. For example, as well as being the first city-car with 4WD (1984), the Panda was also the first car to implement a diesel engine (1986); the first in its segment to receive the coveted “Car of the Year” title (2004), and in the same year, it was also the first city-car to climb to an altitude of 5,200 metres, at the Everest base camp. And the long series of records continued in 2006 when Fiat Panda became the first natural gas fuelled city car to be produced on a large scale. But Fiat Panda never stops. It is the only car in its segment to offer four engine versions (petrol, diesel, petrol/natural gas and petrol/LPG), three configurations (City, Cross and 4×4), two traction systems (front and all-wheel) and two transmissions (manual and Dualogic robotised).
Triennale Design Museum, Stories. Italian design
Triennale Design Museum, the first Museum of Italian design, was opened in Triennale in December 2007. A “mutating” museum which, every year for 10 years, has changed its order and layout, each time aiming to offer different responses to the same basic question: what is Italian design?
The eleventh edition of the Triennale Design Museum tells the story of Italian design through a wide range of stories, which combine to define its complex nature. In particular, the layout of the Museum proceeds in two directions: on one hand it presents the course of history seen from a diachronic perspective and on the other it develops five thematic studies which enable visitors to interpret design through the lens of other disciplines.
The Museum exhibits a selection of 180 works, mostly from the Permanent Collection of the Triennale Design Museum, created between 1902 and 1998 and identified as the most representative examples of Italian design for their contributions in terms of technical and formal innovation, aesthetics, experimentation, distinctiveness and public success. These introduce us to the problems of choosing the essential pieces that must be displayed in a design museum, defining what can be considered an “icon” and judging whether this term is truly effective when applied to the design context.